Katherine Hattam: the history pictures

(pencil scraping) – These are bunny tails from the beach. We used to, these little things actually they don’t have
round things like that but they become round in mine. My daughters pointed this out to me, she said it’s like a way, it’s kind of a version of mindfulness. My drawing and planning
these things are a way of, there’s some kind of,
it’s not like therapy but they’re very kind of restorative. I do really, I really do like making work. I mean it’s something contains me. It’s like a, it kind of
feels like a necessity. I find it a little scary if
I’m not going to be able to. I actually do a lot of like,
these kind of sketches, like this actually in, like
as I go to sleep as night and things too and I also
make some of them just where they’re with my eyes closed, whether I was trying to think
how to draw William Buckley and I thought I’d just
do it with my eyes shut and see what happens. This was done with my eyes shut and it was the idea of
trying to get away from, I really don’t like realism and I was really trying
to get away from it. I mean I don’t think I
have too much trouble with being realistic but it’s like I wanted to kind of
try and free myself up, and I do actually like the
fact that this fish is swimming into the fish trap which would
be totally unintentional. And then it’s like these are
reminders of the blue sea, him being pink and then
red here and then the blue. The Indigenous woman being
blue with black hair, and then the baby being blue. And I just, instead of having black and white I wanted pink and blue. It’s like me developing a vocabulary. So I’m, yeah I’m just doing
little notes for myself. It is interesting to look back. I did these, I don’t know,
like two years ago I think, I’m trying to work out, I don’t
know why he’s got shorts on. I also do it with my
other hand and I do both, but I mean these are just done straight, but they still don’t look
that different from that but it’s a really rough sketch. So that I’m not getting bound
up with like how to do it, but thinking where I have things. No idea, oh that’s saying
the canvas in the kitchen, that’s saying where I should, what picture I should do it on. There’s probably about 10 of these books for this particular project. So, and then I go from a decision as to whether it’s going
to be oil on canvas or if it’s going to be a kind of collage, which will be charcoal and gouache and book pages or on paper. I started and I actually
worked this out the other day, so in 1994, I made a picture from the age, deaths, age, births,
deaths and marriages page, because my father died. So, then I started the book pages a bit. A bit then but then I really, really went on with them in
2004 when my mother died. So, it was like when she
had, she was a massive reader and there were like, lots
of books that we all, we laid all the books out in the house, right through the house
upstairs, down everywhere and all chose them and then,
and actually what happened was you got a lot of books
that you already had. So I recycled them, is how I put it, and then that ran out,
and so then I buy them. But I’ve been doing them for a long time. (pencil scraping) The thing, the decision I make
during this is also to like, what I was thinking
about this with this one, is this one will be like, negative space. And I like the fact that he, Trevor Jones, who used to own the book, is in there. It really, really gives
me a lot of pleasure. And there’s some books
I’ve got where it says, happy birthday mum and
it’s from me to my mother. I like doing those, those little emotional
connections in there. Book pages I mainly choose
so that I want text, no text. Like, I don’t want too much text so like, if you have too much text it’s like really a different surface to work
on, so I like having it, it’s like what I really like
are the pages that aren’t as, don’t have too much written on them. So you only get a few
of those in each book. So you need to be able to
find some, like really, kind of cheap, crap old books
that are, you can tear up. So then I, this is one of the things that I really enjoy doing,
is putting some things into some of these spaces, which I’m trying to think if there are, there’s not so many in
this picture but here, there’s a space which I’ll put some in. Like, I’ll choose an image, I think I’ll put the Great
Tradition in there, maybe. And the other thing, when I’m doing this, is I choose between a
torn edge or a cut one and this one I will make a torn edge, so I’ll just put that in there. I have to get rid of… And in here, there’s some,
so Home is the Prisoner. I don’t actually really, I
don’t know if I like that, so I’ll probably put
something else over that. And then I kind of
manipulate the accident. So, I’ll go over that. But maybe Home is the
Prisoner might be useful, maybe that might make
sense for William Buckley. So I’ll put that there, no,
I think I’ll put that there. I’ll spend a bit of time
thinking about that. So, I like this one, like
To my three sons, Ian, Douglas and Gordon,
victims of the principal. Herein described in this book
is effectively dedicated. What the hell does that mean? This is the point where I kind of decide the palette because, if I’m
going to go with like, blues, I’d probably use blue book spines, but I think I’m probably going to go with the orange ones, but
I still can have like, a blue one in there or two, but I think this one I’ve
been waiting to use this, the go-between, because
that is what he was. So, probably there. So, I’ll probably at
the moment I’ll do that and then I’ll work out later if that’s… I might take one of them out. But, I also do like these
two different blues. Like, there’s the blue
sort of these really, that’s like a phthalo blue and white and this is like an
ultramarine blue and white. So it’s like I have… There’s also the different oranges like these ones, I probably
would swap this one around. So, it’s like a little work
within the work kind of thing and then, the next stage
is I would seal this and then I work with gouache into that. It really works for me, work,
having my studio at home and, it always has. Like, I worked all through
having small children. I used to get up at five
and I’d just get two hours or something and I mean, I still do that. I like being able to go for
half an hour, or an hour, or a day, or go back at night
or I mean, it just suits me. I like the two things being
connected but separate. It feels like a great privilege, to me. The thing about these
two spaces is that, like, where we were, the domestic
space and where I cook and live and all of that, is that
that is also a thinking space for me, it’s where I
draw and plan pictures and have ideas like all the
sketches and things that I never do any of those in here. They’re always down either
as I’m about to go to sleep, or while I’m having dinner
or sitting at the table. It’s like they’re in that space. And I would never paint in that space. It’s like, so and then
in here, this is divided, so this is the area for gouache. Then I know this pink is a really, so it says Very Good Pink, it’s
like it’s really nice pink. So that’s for gouache here,
so that I don’t accidentally dip a brush with turps on
it into and then in here, over here I work on the oil, I either work up against the
wall or on the table and I do actually, a bit of both.
– Yeah. I work flat and then I put it upright and it looks very different. – [Tai] You don’t use an easel though? – I’ve got an easel out
there, but I haven’t used it for about 10 years.
– Yeah, interesting. – I use it to kind of
put, store things on. So, we decided to call the
exhibition, The History Pictures. – [Tai] Where do you want
to put it, over there? – Maybe over here. It turned out to be a better
title than I’d imagined, it’s like, I thought of that
specifically as relating to William Buckley but
it’s actually worked out that it does in different ways describe the three aspects of the show. So, the first, how I now see it, is like the first aspect
of history is like, my personal history. The second will be like,
history of William Buckley, and the third will be revisionist history. So, it’s like the third is
a more directly feminist, there’s a kind of feminist
subtext to all of them, but that it’s like they move from the personal out towards it. This is like the initial, like the most personal version of it. This is the autobiographical version. It’s like my history, so
it’s my first phone number, the dogs which were my
son Charlie’s that have, they’ve been in my work for a long time. And this is like, the
landscape of the holiday house that we went to, it which
where you’d look through the trees to the sea. And nearly everyone I talk to goes, oh yeah, I remember my first phone number. – [Tai] I don’t know if I do. – [Katherine] But maybe
your generation don’t because you’ve…
– 9, 5, 2. I, no I don’t, I can
probably remember the first four numbers but. – [Katherine] No, I can easily, WF4570 is what I remember
and it’s like, it’s really– – [Tai] How old were you when you first– – Well it was partly that my
father was an obstetrician and so, the phone was
very important to him. People would ring and
say my waters have broken or whatever.
– Yeah, of course. And so he had to sit by the
phone and we always used to say if the house burned down, what
we would do is take the phone and I thought, what a ridiculous thing. So the phone was very important, but it’s also pre-mobile, y’know. It’s like, I remember quite a
few of my early phone numbers but not yet.
– Wow, that’s amazing. – [Katherine] But it was like,
that’s also that I wanted this text in there that
wasn’t like saying, I believe this or that or whatever. – [Tai] Or literal description. It was almost just like a memory. – Yeah, and that’s also something
where things just come as like, an idea and you think yeah, I’d like to make a picture about that. – [Tai] I think colours are
kind of like that, don’t you? – Yeah, definitely. The thing about William Buckley that, it’s been a long interest of mine because, partly because we lived, we
holidayed and then we lived down that West Coast of
Victoria where he spent a lot of time, and I could
really imagine where he was so, that kind of helped me, I don’t know, paint my way of seeing it. He was a bricklayer in London who committed some kind of minor crime and was sent as a convict
to Australia and he escaped and he finished up spending 32 years living with the Wathaurung, to the extent that he
forgot how to speak English, which is something that
is fascinating, I think. So, it’s a bit, it’s a story
about he became a go-between, it’s about language, and it’s also, for me, it was like, what I was interested in was
these women who were invisible, was like the Indigenous
women he lived with, and apparently had a child with one. I mean, these stories are hard to confirm. But then, and then later
when he left, he married a white, he left, he was given pardon, and he married a white woman and I always wonder
what she thought about. Asked him about what he’d
done in those 32 years, how he’d, what was that life like? So that, I’m interested in kind of, trying to make visible the invisible. So it is to do with me
thinking about what is my understanding of being alive. We can see in the paintings
like, I’ve wanted to paint him not as this solo figure, looking,
like in a group of people where, and there’s,
y’know the things they, baskets and that kind of thing there. – But then you’ve got
this as the sort of like, contemporary life here,
with the mobile phone and I mean, is this sort of– – That’s a very intentional thing, because I didn’t want,
in the thing of it being The History Pictures, I
didn’t want it to be me pretending I was there, I
wanted like this is where I’m, this is my perspective and
it’s now with my computer, my phone, my camera, my hairbrush, all these things that
kind of matter to me. And so, that was an
intentional thing of saying, that’s me looking back to that. William Buckley talks
about seeing a bunyip at Waurn Ponds and Waurn Ponds is where there’s all these shopping
shops and things in Geelong and my son Charlie lives there and I said, what’s Waurn Ponds like? And he said, you can’t
tell now, it’s just built. You know, but I always used to shop there, so I love the idea that they
saw a bunyip at Waurn Ponds. – [Tai] Just in Aldi or something. – Yeah, and so, so what
I was trying to work out how would I draw. It’s like trying to think how
would I draw William Buckley? And then I thought, how
would I draw a bunyip? And then I thought, actually,
I’ll do it as a self portrait. Then the next is the Philip Guston. The Philip Guston is
like seeing a painting, the painting of Philip
Guston is called My Pantheon, which is a painting of the light-bulb, which is characteristic
with his studio and the part of the easel and then a list
of the artist that he admires, which were like he takes in
his head into the studio. The ones I take into
the studio, on the whole are more recent and also, are women. There’s the Philip Guston, my version of the Philip
Guston painting, My Pantheon, and there’s my version of
it, My Pantheon, and then– – [Tai] which is an existing painting, put into the painting. – Yep, that’s right. And then, this painting here is, this one where I’ve come round to thinking I don’t want to do
something about a pantheon and it’s like I, this is not
finished, but it’s like a list. So, I said not so much
a pantheon, more a list. – [Tai] It’s good to make a list. – Well, it’s also not hierarchical. So, it’s like, it’s a different thing. But it was also a conscious exercise of thinking of, like,
naming women artists, so that they’re not rather
than them being invisible. – But so that other
people can name them too. Like, people might come and
take notes or, you know. – [Katherine] The thing
is that it dawned on me, quite late, was that it’s not that women artists have not existed, it’s that they’ve been invisible. They’ve been invisible, it’s like, and they’ve been invisible to me. I did not go to art
school being taught that. – No, we live in a time now
where we are rewriting a history through a female lens and it’s almost like that has to happen
through painting as well, which is quite an interesting
way to look at your work. – Well, I still think that we do live in a patriarchy and I
think I’m part of it, so it’s kind of like
having to un-think that. It’s like stuff dawning on me, really, and it’s like for that took me a while. – With lots of paintings that
I love, and with your work, it’s a way of working
out what you see, y’know? And sometimes literally
working out what you see, but also just making sense of what you see in your environment, but
also in your mind, like, your sketch of William Buckley’s
partner with her blue face, it’s like, she obviously
didn’t have a blue face, but you’re working out what you see. – Well, I was just thinking,
how do I depict this? And the thing is that I thought, I’ve thought about this
later is that my husband has, was very red haired and
pale, and kind of freckly, and worked out in the boiling
hot sun in Broken Hill and did get melanoma,
that’s what he died from. – Yeah right. – And so I think it’s like,
and also he was much older than me so it was like, this sense where my experience connected
with that, whereas– – You identified with her.
– Well, he went to Oxford, the year I was born,
and I remember thinking, I used to think, so what happened? What was that bit of your life? There’s a whole chunk of
his life I didn’t know, which is much. So I think there’s that. It’s like I think all
these things combine. – And so that layering of
history is really interesting, I think that ties back to the
title, The History Pictures, because you’re layering your own history in your relationship, over that. – Well I’m realising it after the fact. I did not plan that.
– No, it’s unconscious. It’s really interesting, but
it’s why you’re attracted to a certain story. It’s quite interesting.
– Well, why I stay, yeah, you can’t, you’ve got to have some really deep connection with it, I think. It’s something. I think a lot of the really
interesting stuff that happens in making images is in the
making, and it’s like where you are concentrating on making it and you don’t realise what’s, you know. That’s why the whole thing
of an artist’s statement is kind of nonsense. (pencil scratching) The thing that I find slightly, it’s interesting and it’s
also slightly horrifying is how long I stay with images, and I… the window has been like a
looking from the inside out has been something in my work
for a really, like for years. For all sorts of reasons,
I see the world through a psychoanalytic lens, and
so I see that the inside and what’s going on inside
your head affects how you experience the outside world. What’s happening in the outside
world affects your head, so there’s a porousness
between those two things. And I think the pictures were about that, like for a long time, they were about the table as the inside world, and that was actually
where my real interest was, and then the outside world would be like, a more general kind of landscape. I mean, maybe sometimes
it was a bit more specific but it wasn’t really. The real drive of the
thing for me was depicting and kind of celebrating the
domestic, like the interior. The domestic as it made concrete, like my interior life,
so it wasn’t just like, but it was about focusing on the, y’know, the teapot, the coffeepot, the computer, all of those things that made up my life. And I notice in them, my first phone number, the painting, is the window is slightly
starting to recede, because I deliberately kind
of cut it out at the halfway and then, in the other paintings, most of the rest of the
paintings, it’s not there at all. And the table is the
other image that, like, part of my language, which is seeing the landscape over the table, and the table has become something
that kind of floats more, and between the two spaces, so it’s like, for me it’s like where making the work tells you something about yourself, rather than the other way ’round. You kind of realise things
from how the process works. I think it’s told me that, I don’t know how much, I mean, I think it’s in part to do
with fact of my husband dying, and like, we had a very
happy 40 year marriage, and I think it’s been, like this sense that I am now more out in the world, it’s like by force of circumstance. But also I’m kind of
ready for that but yeah, I think it tells me
that my life is changing and I see the world differently. I think the, I don’t, it’s
not all autobiographical, but the life and the work
do affect each other. Well, the life affects the work. Really, inflects the work. – I love all those women
that took a long time to get there because I think
that that’s a realistic kind of way of looking at the practice. – I think everybody does it
differently, but I think that that is the, I kind of,
feels like that to me, and that is partly that
I’ve had two marriages and three children, and it’s like that it does feed into the work
but it also slows it down. I feel like things happen and then, I don’t feel like I think,
oh, so I’m gonna have this late starting, slow. I don’t feel like that, I just think, oh. I look back and think, that’s what happened.
– Yeah, it’s cool. – It’s like, and you’re
just doing it day by day, you know, what do you want to do and what you think you
should do, and it’s like and you don’t always get it right. I think the hardest thing is for me is gonna be with this show, is to stop. It’s like it’s going to be like I’m gonna go.
– Well, you’ve got more to choose from.
– Oh I have to let the rest ’cause I push a lot of
life away to do this. I think everyone is different, I mean, every artist is
different, but in general, and it’s certainly been my experience, is that it takes a long
time for an artist to form. I feel like now, things
are beginning for me and it’s been a long,
yeah, it’s a long process. It’s been a long and
windy path and it’s all, but I don’t, it’s not
path where I look back and regret it, I think
that’s how it has happened and it feels like a good
moment for me at the moment.

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